County settles inmates’ civil rights lawsuits

UTICA – Montgomery County has settled at least a half-dozen civil rights lawsuits filed by inmates who claimed the sheriff and jail administrator segregated them because they were sex offenders or accused of sex crimes.

Twelve inmates filed the suits in United States District Court in Utica between March 20, 2012, and June 18, 2012. The lawsuits, which were similar, with some nearly identical, accused Sheriff Michael Amato and Jail Administrator Michael Franko of violating the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The segregation, called protective custody or administrate segregation depending on circumstances, left the inmates in solitary conditions for 23 hours a day, which they say constituted “cruel and unusual punishment,” according to the lawsuits.

According to court documents, plaintiffs Henry F. Osgood, Michael L. Oliver, Joshua Greggory Pelosi, Andrew Weaver Jr., James E. Lewis and Peter J. Tavares reached settlements and had their cases closed – the most recent being Tavares, whose case was signed off by a federal judge Feb. 7.

Terms of the settlements are not among public court documents and attorneys could not provide details. County Attorney Doug Landon said the settlement amounts “were not significant” but deferred comment to the county’s insurer, Murry Brower of Albany. Brower said Friday through a receptionist that he would have no comment and did not return an email seeking information.

Amsterdam attorney Elmer Robert Keach III represented Tavares and Weaver, whose case was settled in the fall, but said he would have no comment. The other 10 plaintiffs handled their own court battles pro se, with some apparently giving up.

Lawsuits filed by Joshua Mendez and Leonard J. Allen were dismissed in October after court records show each failed to appear for pretrial conferences. Gary E. LaRock Jr. also has missed two pretrial conferences, and the county has asked a federal judge to throw out the case due to a lack of prosecution. LaRock has until Friday to respond to the county’s motion.

Jose A. Perez closed his case against the county in September, shortly after a federal judge denied most aspects of the county’s motion to dismiss the case. It is unclear whether he received anything as a settlement.

Cases filed by Bryant O. Vega and Myron Kilmartin appear to be moving through U.S. District Court but no appearances are scheduled. There are no indications their cases have been settled.

“I still can’t talk about the cases because there is one or two still open,” Amato said in an email. “But I can say I’m very happy that some of the cases were dismissed by the judge and hope to have the rest done this year.”

Franko said in court affidavits inmates were placed in protective custody for their own safety, but at least one federal judge noted the county hasn’t shown data to support that argument and hasn’t been consistent in its administration of it.

“There are questions of fact which surround the legitimacy of Montgomery’s policy given the lack of factual and statistical evidence,” U.S Magistrate Christian F. Hummel wrote while denying the county’s motion to dismiss Tavares’ lawsuit in May.

“Such an inquiry is further confused by Tavares’ prior experiences [as an inmate] at Montgomery where, despite having the same criminal history, he was never before placed or transferred into [protective custody],” he wrote.